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By:T. R. Ragan

lanted a quick one on his mouth, then turned and climbed out of the car. "I'll be fine," she said before shutting the door and blowing him a kiss.

He threw an invisible kiss back at her.

Feeling better, she headed for home. Before making a right on Canyon Road, she looked over her shoulder, but Jared was already driving the other way. She waved anyhow.

Her house was at the end of the block.

She could see the silhouette of the willow tree her dad had planted in the front yard.

The clicks of her shoes against pavement sounded loud enough to wake the dead. She stopped and slipped off her shoes. Now, the only sounds were the croaks of a zillion frogs looking for a mate in some distant creek.


A streetlight went out. She looked up at the light as she passed by. She hadn't thought it could get any darker, but she was wrong. Even the stars had abandoned her tonight. God, she'd forgotten how much she hated the dark. The only thing she hated more than the dark was being alone in the dark.

Jared was right. She should have let him drive her closer to her house, or maybe she should have just let him take her home and walk her to the door like he usually did. She could have told her dad that Jared had picked her up from Brooke's. Dad would have believed her. He always believed her. Her stubbornness was the reason she was out here now...alone...beneath an inky black sky.

A rustling noise sounded near the side gate of one of the neighbor's houses. Chills crawled up her arms. She stopped and listened, hoping to see Fudge, the chocolate brown lab that loved to lick everyone to death. A couple of steps later she heard it again. The thump thump thump of footfalls.

"Jared? Is that you? It isn't funny, you know."

She swiveled about on her feet. The street was empty behind her. The neighbors' lights were off; no one was peering out their windows as far as she could tell. No dogs barking.

That was a good sign, wasn't it?

You're getting yourself all worked up over nothing.

She started off again, one foot in front of the other. And yet the sensation flowing through her was the oddest thing. She could feel it...sense it...somebody was watching her.

Her father always said, "Trust your instincts, Elizabeth. If something doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't."

But then again she'd also been told she had an overactive imagination.

A cool breeze grazed her arms. But there was no breeze tonight, was there?

She should run. She should have started running the moment she'd felt as if she was being watched.

Thump, thump, thump. She whipped around so fast she nearly lost her balance. A man charged straight for her. Her brain shouted RUN. Too bad her legs wouldn't listen. It was as if her feet were glued to the cement.

Whack! Whack!

Something solid hit her leg and then the left side of her head. A hot searing pain shot through her skull. Her knees buckled and all she saw was black: black jacket, black mask, black sky.

Chapter 2

Sacramento, California

Monday, August 19, 1996

Lizzy opened her eyes. An intense pain ripped through her skull, making her wince. She was on her stomach with her hands tied behind her back. The rope was thick and coarse. Her wrists felt raw. She could hardly move. The bastard had taken the time to wrap the upper half of her body in rope, around and around; pulled so tight she could hardly move, let alone breathe. Her ankles were also tied.

Where was she?

It was difficult to see clearly. Her head, all the way to her eyebrows, was wrapped in gauze. The man had bashed her in the legs and head and then covered her head with gauze? He'd talked to her, too, through some sort of weird microphone that made his voice sound like the Robinson's robot on reruns of Lost in Space. The voice had sounded eerie, especially coming from a man wearing a mask straight out of an old Batman movie.

How long had she been here? A few hours, a day, two days?

As her eyes adjusted to the semi-dark room, the pain became more of a pounding on the top of her head and less of a sledgehammer crushing against her skull. Shapes began to take form. The room was about the size of her bedroom. Dark blinds covered a rectangular window, but light squeezed its way through tiny slits. Cobwebs, with an array of silky designs, stretched from the corners of the window to the ceiling.

Chills crept up her spine.

Fear threatened to swallow her whole, but she knew she didn't stand a chance in hell of getting out of here unless she stayed calm.

A pile of cardboard boxes was stacked high to her right. She tried to wriggle her arms. It was no use. She didn't want to die. How many girls had been reported missing? Two? Three? More importantly, how many had been found alive?

A big fat zero.

A creepy crawly worked its way up her leg. She could feel it moving. She stopped breathing. Whatever was on her leg stopped moving.

Why did it stop? To take a bite of her?

A shiver shot up her spine. She wanted to cry out but that might get the maniac's attention, and then what?

The creepy crawler was on the move again. A spider with the body of a cockroach, she decided, since she could feel its heavy belly against her skin as it moved along, slow and steady.

She fought with the ropes; tried hard to wriggle her arms, her legs, her hips. It was no use. Her stomach heaved and gurgled.

You are not going to be sick, Lizzy. Stay calm. Breathe. Just because the other girls couldn't find a way out that doesn't mean you can't.


Focus. She had watched Oprah recently, a show about what to do under extreme situations, like if your car went under water. The number one thing to do was stay calm.

She shut her eyes, inhaled, then slowly exhaled. The stab of nausea left her. When she opened her eyes again she saw a spider skitter across the wood floor within an inch of her face. And then another...and another.

What the hell was going on? Where were they coming from?

She turned her head as far as she could. Shit. Only a few feet away was a giant aquarium filled with insects. Not just spiders either-scorpions and centipedes, too. The insects all climbed on top of one another trying to find a way out. Just like her, they were trapped.

Whatever was on her leg had inched its way past her knee. It's just a bug...a stupid bug. Get a grip, Lizzy. At least it's not dark. More than anything she didn't want the maniac to come back. She didn't want to die.

Images of the other girls came to mind. She squirmed like a fly caught in a web, ignoring the white hot pain as she tried to get a feel for where the ropes intersected behind her.

Suddenly, an eerie calmness settled over her. Her will to live was bigger and stronger than the monster who had tied her up. The maniac, now and forever dubbed Spiderman, obviously didn't know she was double-jointed. She could bend her limbs and joints in ways the sick bastard probably never imagined. The smell of her own stale blood made her stomach churn. She couldn't pass out now. She needed to get untied and get out of here before he came back.

Forget about Spiderman.


A little more pressure on the left shoulder should do the trick. She had popped her shoulder many times to impress her friends at parties. The doctor called it Positional Non-traumatic dislocation. If she could do this...if she could maneuver her arm just so...and a little farther to the left... Focus, Lizzy. Crack.

A tear dripped down the side of her face, across her cheekbone. Thank you, God.

The throbbing ache from dislocating her shoulders was nothing compared to the agonizing pain in her head and the burning sensation in her leg where he'd hit her with something hard and solid. She slid around